"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.
Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.
As thousands of hurricane victims went without food, water and shelter in the days after Katrina's early morning Aug. 29 landfall, critics assailed Brown for being responsible for delays that might have cost hundreds of lives.
But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.
But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this story is the desparate stonewalling by the flying monkeys (emphasis supplied):
White House and homeland security officials wouldn't explain why Chertoff waited some 36 hours to declare Katrina an incident of national significance and why he didn't immediately begin to direct the federal response from the moment on Aug. 27 when the National Hurricane Center predicted that Katrina would strike the Gulf Coast with catastrophic force in 48 hours. Nor would they explain why Bush felt the need to appoint a separate task force....
Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, referred most inquiries about the memo and Chertoff's actions to the Department of Homeland Security....
The Department of Homeland Security has refused repeated requests to provide details about Chertoff's schedule and said it couldn't say specifically when the department requested assistance from the military. Knocke said a military liaison was working with FEMA, but said he didn't know his or her name or rank. FEMA officials said they wouldn't provide information about the liaison.
Not only is this offensive, it's stupid - such obvious evasion only draws attention to the information being obscured, and practically begs a flurry of FOIA requests. The truth will get out, and will be even more explosive for having been suppressed. This is simply more evidence, piled upon that already at hand, that the White House is badly off its game and is managing the PR disaster as poorly as it managed the natural disaster. The difference is - and this is crucial - this White House never claimed any disaster management expertise, but has always prided itself in information management. When you start to lose tricks in your trump suit, you're going down.
Along somewhat similar lines, you should consider this from USA Today, via Eschaton:
[Louisiana's Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco] says that two days after Katrina, desperate for help, she couldn't get through to Bush and didn't get a callback; hours later, she tried again, and they talked....
[Mississippi's well-connected Republican Gov. Haley] Barbour hasn't had to wait hours to talk to Bush. In fact, Barbour said in an interview with USA TODAY, the president called him three to four times in the wake of Katrina. "I never called him. He always called me," he said.
This certainly implies to me that when the Boy King and his minions weren't busy being incompetent, they were busy being maleficent.
Which gets me to the meat of the nut: I take no pleasure in pointing out the Bush Administration's many failures in response to Hurricane Katrina. It gives me no glee to note that people died as a result of the acts and omissions of our federal government. As with the ever-festering war in Iraq, I do not harp on the shameful display of arrogance, ignorance, incompetence, and corruption because I despise the President; rather, I despise the President because of his well-established patterns of arrogance, ignorance, incompetence, and corruption. I would prefer greatly that I had nothing to complain about, that the thousands of innocents from Najaf to the Ninth Ward were still alive today and not putrefying in the streets for the sake of this President's monumental hubris. But so they are, and so they shall continue to be, until the benighted village of Crawford, Texas, reclaims its idiot. If I believed in God, I might implore Him to take mercy on Bush's soul - but I wouldn't really mean it.